Nine films received honors at the 2017 Academy Awards for Best Picture. That means the Academy deems these films to be the best of the year. Hands down. Are they right about this distinction? An argument can be made to the opposite. But that is a conversation for a different day.
For now, let’s look at what they did pick as the best of 2016. More importantly, let’s rank the nine from worst to best.
Something has to be last. Hidden Figures is a fine film, and its timely release gave it an edge with the Academy. But the film lacks a certain tonal drive. The script is too on-the-nose. The strong acting bolsters against these weaknesses, but there are still some cracks in the film to take note of.
In terms of the “Oscar film,” Lion fits right in. It really pulls for that award throughout its runtime. Calling it “Oscar bait” may be a step too far, but it is pretty darn close. The film features a stellar first half and a dwindling second half. The imbalance here is a major concern.
John Campea may be on to something when he calls fan-favorite Arrival overrated. Seeing it get so much Oscar attention is certainly surprising. The film, with interesting themes and great visuals, is by no means a bad film. But even Villeneuve, who by my account is batting 1.000, has done better in the past.
Fences is a visceral experience through dialogue alone. The acting and scripting is easily some of the best of the year. The film itself, though, is less of a film and more of a stage play. This makes sense, given the film is a stage adaptation, but the film could have done a little more with staging and cinematic flourishes.
In terms of an Oscar-worthy piece, Hell or High Water deserves the praise but lacks that extra something. It is a film I personally adore, but the films below it on this list feature a stronger overall cinematic experience, where all of their parts add up to larger sums. Regardless, you should see this film if you haven’t already.
The Mel Gibson redemption piece, so to speak, is a dynamic cinematic experience. Cinematography, editing, sound design, acting. It all bundles up into a surprisingly stellar package. Hate him or tolerate his insensitivities, Gibson knows how to put together a film.
Yeah, I debated lowering La La Land to this position. It really is being blown out of proportion as a “perfect film.” But by placing Manchester by the Sea side-by-side you can see where one stacks up higher. Manchester by the Sea is a heart-wrenching narrative with incredible acting performances. But its technical aspects are less ambitious than…
The favorite to win is not the best. I will stand by that statement. La La Land has pretty much everything you would want. Solid acting. Great cinematography. Beautifully choreographed song and dance numbers. Vibrant sets and costuming. It is great. But…
…Moonlight is better. It has similarly amazing things: solid acting, great cinematography, maybe not the song and dance numbers, but still. What Moonlight has that La La Land lacks is deep meditations on theme and a sensational grasp on storytelling. La La Land is a fantasy. Moonlight is a nuanced reality wrapped up in snippets that smell of fantasy but aren’t fantastical. Moonlight feels like something more than a film.
As always, thanks for reading!
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)